Ukraine Liveblog Day 126: Testing the Ceasefire

June 23, 2014
Separatist fighter armed with an anti-tank missile. Photo: @euromaidan

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Russian-Backed Separatists Agree To Ceasefire

A major headline today. The Ukrainian government is reporting that the separatists have agreed to a ceasefire:
Is it a coincidence that the deal comes on the same day that Russia has picked Viktor Medvedchuk to be the mediator for this crisis?

As we wrote earlier, Medvedchuk is a wealthy pro-Russian businessman with a reputation of supporting Russian interference and greater Federalization of Ukraine.

Dow Jones Business News has more details on the ceasefire:

The Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council reported that as of 5 p.m. local time rebel fighters had stopped shooting at government positions in the east, suggesting that a unilateral cease-fire Mr. Poroshenko had declared Friday was at least briefly taking hold.

A government spokesman said that Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic and other representatives of the group were participating in the meeting. A spokeswoman for Mr. Borodai confirmed he would attend.

Russian news agencies reported late Monday that representatives of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic were on their way to Donetsk to join in the talks.

Russia Claims Ukraine Violated Ceasefire

The Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reports that a source at the Russian Ministry of Defence has told them that they are monitoring the situation in eastern Ukraine via surveillance across the border.

Through the use of a number of different surveillance radars, Russia claims to be able to detect and locate any shelling within 60 kilometres of the border. Using this equipment, they claim to have detected Ukrainian shelling on Sunday:

Last Sunday the Russian President Vladimir Putin reported on the use of artillery in Ukraine. According to him, surveillance installations made it possible to pinpoint “fairly active artillery use from the Ukrainian side” after the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had announced a ceasefire.

The source specified that this refers to artillery shelling by the Ukrainian National Guard from settlements in the border regions of the Lugansk oblast. The shelling came from six D-30 howitzers on the outskirts of the village of Chervonaya Zarya and lasted for more than half an hour.

The extensive monitoring equipment described has however evidently failed to detect any military convoys crossing from Russia into Ukraine despite credible reports of such.

Former Ukrainian President Kuchma to Take Part in Talks in Donetsk

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the former Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, the OSCE Special Envoy, Hedi Tagliavini and the Russian ambassador, Mikhail Zubarov, will take part in talks to address the implementation of President Poroshenko’s peace plan in Donetsk today.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

A meeting of a trilateral contact group on the implementation of President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan will be held in Donetsk on June 23.

This is reported by the President’s press office.

The aim of the meeting is to define the stages of the realisation of the peace plan.

“It is expected that the OSCE special envoy, Heidi Tagliavini, and the Russian ambassador, Mikhail Zurabov, will take part in the negotiations in Donetsk. On the instructions of the President, the second president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, will attend the meeting.”

Before the departure of the contact group to Donetsk, the President received its members in Kiev.

“The participation of Leonid Kuchma testifies to the Ukrainian president’s accute concern for this mission”, announced Poroshenko.

As is known, the first meeting of the group took place on June 8 in Kiev. Ukraine was then represented by the ambassador to Ukraine, Pavel Klimkin, who now heads the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On Monday in Luxembourg, at a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, Klimkin is presenting Poroshenko’s peace plan on the resolution of the situation in the east of the country.

Meanwhile, while the OSCE is taking part in the trilateral talks, two of their monitoring teams remain in captivity, held by separatists in the south-east of the country, as pointed out in a tweet by their Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine:

Russia Proposes Medvedchuk as Mediator

The office of the President of Russia has announced that Viktor Medvedchuk is to act as a mediator in south-eastern Ukraine through his Ukraine’s Choice political group. The statement (in English) reads:

Vladimir Putin welcomed the news that the Ukraine’s Choice public movement has started making contacts in Donetsk and Lugansk. Ukraine’s Choice is led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has consistently supported the idea of federalism in Ukraine. At the same time he is a respected figure in Kiev and is known in the West.

The news has come that Mr Medvedchuk met with representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic and obtained an agreement to hold a meeting with the OSCE mission in the aim of establishing dialogue between Kiev and southeast Ukraine. Russia supports such a meeting at the ambassador level.

Mr Putin has made repeated statements that the only way to settle the crisis in Ukraine is through peaceful dialogue and taking into account the eastern regions’ interests.

Medvedchuk is a wealthy, pro-Russian Ukrainian businessman believed to have been instrumental in Russian attempts to manipulate Ukrainian politics.

Viktor Medvedchuk (left) is seen with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (second from left), Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi on August 17.

Medvedchuk sits on far left, with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi on August 17, 2013.

His ties to the Russian government are indeed close: Vladimir Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter. 

Allegations of Medvedchuk’s dealings go a long way back. Notably, he has been accused of paying for a neo-Nazi demonstration during the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election campaign in order to tarnish the image of then opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

According to a document purportedly leaked to Ukrainian press last summer, Medvedchuk was a key figure in Russian attempts to manipulate politics. While the Kremlin says that he is a “respected figure in Kiev”, his home was torched on the same night that Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital, and, as for “known in the West” – he is on the US sanctions list.

Separatists Take Revenge on Villagers for Dismantling Roadblock

Novosti Donbassa reports that separatist fighters have returned to the village of Shabelkovka near Kramatorsk.

The fighters were driven out of the village on Saturday, June 21, by around 200 local residents after the fighters had refused to dismantle their roadblock. 

The report says however, that “Russian mercenaries” later arrived at the village and dispersed an impromptu meeting of local residents.

The terrorists fired into the air and kidnapped the brothers, Alexei and Roman Khokhotva, who they accused of organising the dismantling of the roadblock .

On the following day the militants kidnapped another relative of Roman Khokhotva. The three are now in the occupied Ukrainian Security Service building in the town of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region.

Translation by The Interpreter.

Attacks on Government Positions Reported

Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance reports that separatist fighters have continued to test the ceasefire by mounting attacks on government positions in both the Donetsk and Lugansk regions over the last day. He reports that two servicemen were wounded last night in a mortar attack near the town of Kremennaya in the Lugansk region.

Tymchuk writes on Facebook (translated by The Interpreter):

According to Information Resistance’s operational data, last night militants in the Donbass shelled ATO positions near the town of Kremennaya with mortars. Two members of the security forces were wounded.

Over the whole of the past day DNR and LNR militants have been conducting terrorist attacks (shelling and sabotage) in 6 districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

The ATO forces across the board have been strictly observing the terms of the truce declared by the President of Ukraine. Security forces have opened fire only in response to attacks by militants.